You’re probably familiar with Dove’s Real Beauty campaign, but you may not yet have seen this remarkable video they released a couple weeks ago.
Using a real-life forensics artist to draw ordinary women based purely on their verbal description, Dove captures a heartbreaking truth: we judge ourselves much more harshly than others judge us. We see only our flaws, not realizing that others see our personality, our big smiles, the kindness in the crinkles around our eyes–others see our beauty.
We seem to think virtue lies in severe modesty, while confidence is arrogant or even immature. After all, it’s little girls who are comfortable strutting around, tummies out, in one-piece bathing suits. Little girls are unabashed in showing their adoration to their little crushes. Little girls will play rough-and-tumble in the back yard and then put on a pink dress and demand that everyone in the house refer to her as Queen.
Somewhere around puberty we tend to start assessing ourselves and each other with a harshness a drill sergeant would admire. I remember my confusion in the girl’s bathroom when I was ten, when one of my classmates tugged at my tucked-in shirt and insisted that I pull it out a bit more. I looked around and wondered when my classmates had transitioned from hapless little nine year olds wearing whatever Mommy sent them to class in, to young woman anxiously fussing with themselves in the mirror.
I was more concerned with finding the perfect outfit for my Barbie and didn’t particularly care how tightly my shirt was tucked. . . something told me they didn’t want to hear that.
The next few years were not pretty. But being heckled by my fellow adolescents taught me how to fake confidence, and faking it is a decent place to start.
People remark on my confidence but they make the mistake of thinking I was somehow blessed with a self-esteem gene that they don’t have. That I magically know how awesome I am and that, because they weren’t born with a knowledge of their own awesomeness, they should just carry on feeling like crud. This is why I write about this all the frickin’ time on this magazine. I’m tired of women being self-effacing, only feeling sexy when they’re starving themselves on a diet, scoffing at compliments, fixating on imagined flaws that no one else notices.
Guess what, you’re not a hag. You would make yourself and those who love you happier if you honored what you were given. The courage to do that won’t come from a someday-diet when you lose forty pounds, or someday-surgery when you can afford a lift, or a someday-ego boost that will magically make you feel good about yourself.
It comes by consciously choosing to focus on your strengths.
I judge myself as harshly as the next woman. I look in the mirror and see: the haircut’s getting messy, redness around my nose, not enough mascara, and do I like how I look in this shirt? I earn a living with my aesthetic sense but that same sense of beauty makes me all-too aware of what I lack. I see these thoughts as inevitable but pointless, however–much the way my mental muttering at bad drivers during my commute is pointless. We can’t turn off all those voices in our head. But we can control which voices we listen to.
Start by paying attention to three specific situations:
1. When you look in the mirror. Go ahead, do your little mental assessment of how much you suck. But before you leave the bathroom, step back from the mirror, take a deep breath, and smile. Smile at yourself.
2. When you receive a compliment. Try simply saying “Thank you.” Don’t deny it. Don’t argue it. Don’t ask them if they’re sure. Don’t say “Oh this old thing.” Just thank you. And then ask yourself, is there any possible way they might actually be right?
3. When you are in bed with your partner. If you’re with someone who doesn’t hold you or look you in the eye or do something else that makes you feel appreciated all over rather than just “down under,” talk to him about that. Seriously. If you are, and you should be, with an affectionate man, bask in it. Believe it. Believe, not that he’s deluded, or needs glasses, but that he appreciates you for real reasons that you should appreciate too.
Like the women in the video, if you think you’re ugly, you’re wrong. End of story. Buy a prettier top. Get your hair done. Most of all, smile.
Everyone will be glad to see you.